2019-04-27 - Sleeplessover! The Incubator Explains It All!

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Sleeplessover! The Incubator Explains It All!

Afraid for their daughter's solitary grief, the Kanames invite basically everyone she's ever known over to grieve with her. They have no idea what they're getting into. An uninvited fairy makes for a particularly spectacular guest...


Madoka Kaname, Nori Ankou, Setsuna Higashi, Steven Universe, Mai Tokiha, Rei Hino, Kasagami Araki, Setsuna Meioh, Usagi Tsukino, Mikoto Minagi, Fuu Hououji, Vita Yagami


Kaname House, Shibuya Shopping Ward

OOC - IC Date:

4/27/2019 - 06-03-2015

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Amicae Carae Meae https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufFNCURN1w4



Junko Kaname, in a cardigan and jeans, leans up against their kitchen counter. Her husband, Tomohisa, is at the stove next to her, protecting his button-up shirt beneath a bunny rabbit apron. He pokes weakly at the stir fry in the wok there. It just doesn't seem able to get up to temperature. It isn't sizzling at all.

"I'm worried about her too," he agrees quietly. "Unless she has snacks squirreled away up there, or got something on her way home from school, she hasn't eaten in days."

Junko bites the inside of her cheek. Hold yourself together. "It wouldn't be like her to sneak food anyway," she says, levelly. "She doesn't lie. She doesn't... hide things from us..." Already her voice is wavering. She bites harder. She tastes salt.

Tomohisa sighs, runs his fingers through his hair, leaving it standing on end. "She has the right to privacy, she's a high-schooler already. I just don't like her being all alone right now. But when I... well, she hasn't answered me."

A light bulb goes off behind Junko's eyes, which has the unfortunate side-effect of backlighting the unshed tears there, but is, otherwise, a sign of hope. "That's it -- you're a genius!"

She starts snapping her fingers in time with her thoughts. Tomohisa watches her patiently, stirs the wok. There's a slight noise coming off of it now and the very faintest smell of dehydrating mushroom.

"She doesn't want to be with us, and we don't want her to be alone... we should surround her with her friends!"

"She might not like that," Tomohisa says, hesitantly.

"Well, we're her parents," Junko snaps back relentlessly. "Sometimes we have to do things she doesn't like, for her own good. That's our job."

"Mmm," he agrees. Stepping away from dinner for a moment, he closes the distance between them and pecks his wife on the cheek. "You're right. As usual."



EVERYONE the Kanames know of, who know Madoka, are invited. They're encouraged to bring their own friends.

"It isn't quite a wake," Tomohisa explains over the phone. "I'm not even sure it's going to be a celebration of life, or a celebration of anything, at all. But... she's all alone right now, she's been alone for days, and... she needs to change that. Please come, if you can. As her father, I implore you."

"No, you don't need to bring anything," Junko answers, when asked. "We'll have snacks. Though actually, maybe it would be cute if we did shared desserts, like... a sweets potlock. Don't go to any trouble, if you're not into that. And bring a sleeping bag, if you want. I think we'll make a night of it, for those who want to stay."



"Madoka-chan," Junko says, at her daughter's closed bedroom door. "Your friends are here."

"PEE-PULL!! PEE-PULL!!" squeals toddler Tatsuya Kaname, lifting his arms at each and every passerby in the universal gesture for Pick Me Up.

There's no answer from within, though, for too long a moment.

When her voice does come, it is devoid of interest. "...who?"

"All of them," Tomohisa says warmly. And he throws the door open wide.

It's dark in there, with the silhouette of many, many chairs. Big ones, small ones, with arms and without, in an impossible variety of styles, eras, and levels of comfort.

The shades are drawn. The lamp is not on.

And Madoka, still in her uniform from the last day she went to school, is lying on top of her covers, staring at the ceiling. It's unsettling, seeing her famously expressive face so completely without affect. There are signs of movement beneath the iced-over surface, though; she is not a doll, she is not empty, she can feel.

All things considered, that may not be a good thing.

The circles beneath her eyes are swollen, though not currently wet. There's a hollow beneath her cheekbones, the subtle one that comes after starving yourself for enough days, the one that supermodels often have.

She doesn't sit up. She doesn't look over at all.

"Go to her," urge her parents. "We'll be downstairs."

The sound of Tatsuya's happiness, as THEY Pick Him Up, follows the rest of the family down the hallway as they retreat.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCHUw7ACS8o

When Nori spoke to Tomohisa Kaname on the phone, she spoke with elegant certainty and gentle hints of warmth when it was there. She understands. She understands. She understands.

Sweets, though. "I know just the thing," Nori had told Junko.

She hung up the phone. In the dark cool of her stormy-sky-litten apartment not so terribly far away, Nori Ankou wonders. She spoke to those parents the way an elegant lady of society would, she thinks. Nori stands up, and she looks round, and she wonders at the height she has reached.

Somehow it feels awful.


"Ah - thank you for your invitation... here, may I place this down? Yes, I brought it over in the car... I hope you do not mind that I parked it... I know, it is a little odd, isn't it?"

"Here - try a little slice, I brought two big things of it - it has a tang, doesn't it? I love flan, for its simplicity..."

"It's different? Ah... well, that might be the goat's milk."

Nori had time to speak of such things because she took pains to be early.


The door is opened. The room is dark, beyond.

Nori is wearing a sleeveless blouse of dark crimson and loose black hakama trousers, with a loose sunset-orange-and-purple shawl-verging-on-mantle over her back and upper arms. The brooch is... well; there is a loose wrap of old lace around it, but there is only one brooch that Nori feels like wearing.

Nori smiles at Madoka. It is soft, and sad. When her parents urge her, Nori slides inside, though without haste. Perhaps she wishes to leave the possibility of being told to GET OUT open. She moves to the left, and she settles into a wicker chair, one of the wide and embracing ones with a slightly rough-textured gray cushion spread out and ready to embrace you. Nori sinks back a little, and she feels less tall, and she feels like she's laying down, and that helps her.

Her left foot touches the ground and turns her a little. She sits up, so she is facing towards Madoka, without being pointed at her like a hostile radar dish.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Setsuna Higashi's number is not hard to find; she's in Madoka's phone herself, easy to reach out and talk to, and when dealing with adults, she is impaccably polite. Almostly suspiciously well-behaved, even, among... most. And while she doesn't actually understand most of the nouns like 'wake' or 'celebration of life' as such...

"I'll come," the quiet girl answers simply, with all the solemnity of a sworn promise.


Setsuna smiles briefly at Junko as she greets her, at Tomohisa the same, and then looks down, lowering herself slightly to look at Tatsuya in turn. "Hi," she greets, and does not pick him up but does make a point of noticing him. ...It's something she notices, here, in this house...

It's something precious, and worth protecting. But fighting isn't how to protect this house right now, how to help Madoka Kaname--that's what she thinks.

So she rises, in time for the door to open.

Setsuna finds it unsettling, for sure--emotionlessness itself isn't strange to her... but that's part of why. Madoka doesn't look like herself, not the vibrant, emotional girl Setsuna knows; she could as easily be...

Setsuna suppresses that thought, shaking her head instead, and focusing instead on the hollow, the look--that she says nothing for now. In her hands though is a box; a familiar pink box, to some, filled with round sweets with a familiar heart-shaped center--the simplest, most enduring reminder Setsuna can think of friendship, of happiness, of anything good in one baked form.

She steps inside, too. "Hello, Madoka-chan," Setsuna says, with purpose, without hesitation--her voice is warm, not overly cautious, carefully held back from obvious worry or hesitation.

She takes a seat in a friendly wooden chair, its beautiful makings red; some might not find it terribly comfortable, but it's supportive, spare without being bare, hand-made by someone some time ago.

She glances at Nori, then. And then back. Setsuna can wait.

Madoka did, all that time ago.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

A small shower descended on the Tokyo Beach. One of those ephemeral kinds that don't stick around longer than they are wanted. Enough to wet the appetites of plants, and make innocent sand into that clinging, hated form that can ruin shoes and pantlegs for the day.

The drops clink against a sliding glass door on a second story. A small candle burns beside a television. All the lights are out in the house, except for the CRT glow of the television itself. A pair of individuals sit in front of it, watching as a metal hook-fingered person chases down a panicked man.

"How does he do it?

"Do what?"

"Like, everything! He has hooks for fingers, how do you open a door, or eat a sandwich? You can't tell me he just chases people all the time, he has to try to pick something up eventually!"

"Maybe he has friends that he doesn't turn into haunted coat hangers to do that stuff for him?"

A purple hand shapeshifts into an identical hand the monster-man has. It tries to pick up a cookie on a plate between the two. The cookie invariably gets broken into pieces before fully lifting off the surface.

"See? Worst scary ability ever."

A catchy jingle comes from a phone downstairs.

Steven rushes to answer it.


He remembered their hangout. Her devastation at the truth. The phone call was both a very happy thing that he would be included, but a sadness underlay somewhere yet seen. This wouldn't be a normal event.

But did it have to be?

He remembered a quote heard on television back at Beach City. 'We cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone.' Perhaps so, if all of Madoka's friends were together, then...

A boy with a happy smile and a small cooler at his say would be at the door that evening. Lion slinked off into the waning sun, somewhere assuredly nearby if needed, but had his own plans of the evening. Perhaps he had his own crime-fighting team to hang out with!

Nah, that would be silly.

"I helped make something!" he says happily, coming inside and opening the cooler.

Cookie Cats. Well... sortof. Some kind of home-made knockoff. Also exclusively made with strawberry ice cream instead of the neopolitan style. They were a little misshapen, some had too much ice cream and were not quite firm. But boy the flavor. There was a highly unusual amount of strawberry in them; the chocolate holding it together could barely contain the flavor! Where did he get this ice cream?!

At being ushered, he joins the rest of the assembling young ladies and shuffles along with them

At the room, he peeks in this shadowy abode, spying her huddled within the last bastion of comfort. The one everyone knew. A bed. But what comfort can a comforter even bring with such a tragedy?

The little Gem Child gives the pink-haired girl a small, shaky wave. "H... Hi!" he says quickly, letting everyone else say hello first before going on. For now, he finds a nice chair...

Wow, there's a lot of them. They look so nice! He finds one to plop in, a white teak affair with three spires, excellently lathed to make an almost candelabra-top appearance. The seats are velveteen and a light purple shade. "We came to visit you!" he says, kicking his feet excitedly, trying to be as upbeat as possible.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

It's raining when the call comes.

The dorm room Mai Tokiha calls home is dim. Sure, the students aren't necessarily paying the power bills, but it's the principle of the matter. Or something. She's got enough light to see her homework, but not enough to see the untidy state of her kitchen or the summer uniform tidily laid out for a wearer who hasn't been home in days.

Not enough light to see her mistakes.

Mai's phone rings, and she answers, and the plea from a caring father is met with a painful silence. If not for the patter of rain outside, one might almost think the call disconnected - but eventually, when pushed, there's a quiet answer. "Your daughter, she..."

A deep breath, audible over even the phone. "I don't know how much good I can be. But...she shouldn't be alone. I'll try."


It's still raining. Mai closes her umbrella, setting it by the door with however many others there might be. Little Tatsuya is too cute to not bring some kind of smile, but she hesitates to approach closer than that. It doesn't feel like her place.

(The girl behind her, laden with a box of macarons, absolutely stops to set down the box lift up the demanding toddler. There are airplane noises, because he is just too cute and honestly she's not sure what words she could offer for a...girl she's met a few times. But there's macarons.)

When the door opens, admitting the group of caring friends to Madoka's room, Mai's breath hitches. There's shadows in the darkness, framing a girl who seems to have just lost all hope in everything.

"Kaname-chan..." There's hesitation in Mai's voice at the sight. She remembers a bright and optimistic co-worker, doing her best to learn the tricks of the trade at Linden Baum - up until management decided that everyone who'd been captured by SEARRS should have tried harder not to miss shifts. She remembers a scared girl, captured in a warehouse, desperately hoping for a saviour - who did make it, that time.

(That saviour is gone, now. Her protégé is also gone. Now there's just...)

The faces of Madoka, as Mai has seen them, have been determined and hopeful and faithful - and now that face is more empty than ever. It's grief writ large - not expressed the same way Mai remembers it being, but painfully familiar all the same.

She finds a chair, bright colours masked by the lack of lighting, and tries to find words that might help. Anything.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nobuo Uematsu - Dear Friends https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpQp920x040

It's hard for Rei to be genuinely herself, in Ohtori, when there are so many pressures pushing down on her. She's somebody, and that means she has to be somebody, and the debutantes of Ohtori are all practicing for the stage.

It's why those classmates she can relax around are so important to her. Madoka is not someone she has ever felt she has to pretend around; for once she doesn't have to prove anything. A person can be an oasis, as rare and precious as gold. She is one more girl who Usagi hauled into her life, when she barged in and dragged her into friendship.

Perhaps it is no wonder she arrives with Usagi, now, in the wake of the Kaname's calls to action. Usagi carries a box of cookies; Rei carries a plate of cupcakes, brought from the store and painstakingly personalised with an amateur attempt at frosting. "Hey, Usagi..." Rei asides, to her, as they walk the smooth path to the front door. And she sees something on the other girl's face which stops her from saying what she was about to say - looking forward instead. "... can you get the doorbell? My hands are full."

In this moment, Rei doesn't know what to say to someone who has gone through so much with Madoka Kaname. Maybe there's nothing she can say.

Once they're inside - Rei smiles brightly to Tatsuya with a special hello just for him, though she doesn't pick him up, this time - they can unload their sweet deliveries. And soon enough, the door opens, and all Madoka's friends are here.

Usagi is here. Rei is here, too.

Rei finds a seat on a cheerfully red bucket chair, folding in socked feet (her shoes were of course left by the entryway) underneath herself. Usagi does not bother to find a chair - she goes to sit on Madoka's bed, because that's where Madoka is. She's there, in the way Usagi has.

And for a moment Rei is not sure what to say here, either. She starts, gently: "Madoka-chan..."

Helpfully, Steven explains. "That's right," she nods, to him. "We --" all at once the obvious construction presents itself to her, and it's more fitting than that. "-- we came here for you." Because Madoka is waning now, she thinks, when Madoka has shone so brightly for all of them.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.


"I'll do what I can. Her being alone right now isn't going to help one bit."

It's still a little awkward, but Kasagami is enduring a great many things that range from downright infuriating all the way up to the old tickle of mourning made nice and fresh. So the phone call is almost refreshing when she gets it. If nothing else?

Well, call her a professional modern day mourner. Just as she hangs up with the gentle father of Madoka Kaname, a heavy weight sits upon her shoulders. Isn't she in part responsible for all of this?

Her gaze tracks to a beloved family picture, a thumb hits the speed dial, and she talks. For this particular piece of work, she won't go it alone.


Kassie's hand has been rubbing Setsuna Meioh's long before they got to the Kaname Residence, gears in her head turning furiously as she chews over just how to lift the girl's spirits. She's almost grim faced, as if she were planning an attack or a strategy to take down a youma.

In Kasagami's estimation, grief is a far more monstrous. Her other hand has been carefully holding up a tupperware container like some sort of waitress. as she keeps within the anti-rain powers of her beloved's umbrella. There's nothing complicated in her offerings: chocolates, with various fillings in it and a bit of spices add to it for a light kick. Luckily she had the forethought to label it 'spicey'.

"...Let's do this." She whispers, to herself, to Setsuna, and to everyone else that's gathered. Kasagami lets out a heavy sigh before it's time to see Madoka herself.

The food's down, quickly abandoned, one gloved hand hunting out a chair. Fingers pinch around the back, she brings it forward, then twirls it once on a single leg, twice, stop. Her clothes are casual: dark jeans, crimson shirt with purple lettering of some jazz band logo. Boots were politely checked in at the door, even her aggressively worn coat hung up to avoid the wrong appearance. Strong, tall, scarred and athletic, she sits down with her elbows on her knees to seem a little smaller. Her good eye shines, with empathy and experience old and recent.

The smallest of smiles graces her lips, just a quirk, devoid of joy. A glance to every one of those joined here. Madoka is so loved. Kassie inwardly crosses fingers that the girl knows it.

"Madoka-chan." A little nod. "Been sleeping any?" She starts, just after some of the others greet. Kassie is good at filling air with words, and she uses that skill.

"You know, during the summer, I like looking at fireflies. They're beautiful. Short lived, but...all of the dancing lights. Hypnotic, almost. Blink, blink, blink. Could fall right to bed, seeing that." Kassie is just talking, it's the first thing that came to mind, the furthest from the actual situation that she could think of. A distraction, a feint really, to try to get Madoka's attention, some reaction, something. Even if it's just confusion.

Right beside her, Kassie glances tellingly to her girlfriend often. Not evening hiding it. Subtlety is not the order of the day tonight. The wrought iron chair she's chosen is gripped with one hand. It's solid, but not cold. Images of hawks and falcons are made on the back. More display piece than anything else, but the lack of comfort keeps Kassie sharp. A little pain feels appropriate in her mind.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Setsuna Meioh arrives at the Kaname doorstep wrapped in a dark and stylish raincoat and beneath an umbrella to match; she and Kasagami Araki are hand in hand, right up until they knock at the door. Then long fingers squeeze, once, and untwine from her girlfriend's for politeness' sake.

Even so they move together, once inside. The tall college student is graciously formal, a model guest if notably reserved... except when Tatsuya's insistent toddler charm overcomes that reserve. Instead of reaching down, Setsuna crouches for a moment to share a smile with the boy, and the corners of her garnet eyes crinkle.

Kassie brought sweets for the both of them, and Setsuna carries no sleeping bag. She has brought herself, wrapped in respectful quiet, because she feels that she owes it to Madoka Kaname. Her parents' plea strikes a painful chord. Setsuna only hopes her presence is a help.

She can be here for Kasagami, she knows. For support, and there is the matter of a favor asked after the invitation went out... Passions and sorrows ever run high in the swordswoman, and the senshi admires this in her love even as she balances her own steady wisdom against them.

Her self-possession is not so deep that her concern goes unseen, once Madoka's door opens. Those eyes of hers express sadness, express empathy, too well for Setsuna to be a statue.

"Kaname-san..." she begins, but it is hard to know what else to say. Thousands of years watching the world, and now that she is in it... Rei Hino, who cannot help but be known to Setsuna if only as a friend of Small Lady and of Usagi -- she keeps such a close watch on everyone Small Lady associates with, thanks to a certain helpful cat-ball -- says it simply, says it well, and receives a grateful nod.

"We are all here for you," she adds. "Whatever small things might help... Whatever large."

Her knee nearly touches Kassie's, where they sit side by side. Throughout the swordswoman's storytelling she listens and watches, and thinks not of fireflies but of how much her love cares, of how she wracked her brain for a way to help all the way here. It's in her unwavering gaze, clear as day.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

When Usagi Tsukino thinks of Sayaka Miki she thinks of a girl who saved her from a toaster with an enchanted bat. She thinks of the brave Puella Magi that became Mami Tomoe's kouhai. She thinks of the Chevaliers she founded.

It would be a lie though, if she didn't think of her primarily as Madoka's best friend. If she didn't associate her strongest memories of her with that night when Madoka came to her home after she'd lost the ability to become Sailor Moon.

When she'd been so ready to become Sailor Moon again after hearing Madoka's sorrow - concern for her friend.

Only to be told that she didn't have to be. That she could protect her feelings best as Usagi Tsukino.

There are countless reasons to love Madoka Kaname. This was simply one of them. Though this one was simply the one she associated most strongly with Sayaka Miki.

And what she became... Usagi tries not to think about that. Tries not to even imagine it. A world that did that to Madoka Kaname's best friend was too cruel.

A world that's making Madoka Kaname suffer for her love is too cruel.

So she doesn't think of the world. She thinks of Madoka.

And that is why she is here, sitting on her bed. Coming at her parent's call.

It's a strange occasion that Usagi Tsukino is one of the quietest people in the room, so strange that it might stand out to Rei Hino or Nori Ankou or Setsuna Meioh. Her fingertips on the covers, at the ready for if she needs them. Her eyes on Madoka Kaname's face. That look in her eyes that rare one where she's trying so hard not to cry - rather than just letting it all out instantly.

She asks no questions. She makes no comments. She's simply here.

Her 'here' however is synonymous with one thing.

I love you.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Yuki Kajiura - Solitude By The Window https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxAh8_E2xW4

One girl arrives late, sensible Ohtori flats pressed against a flat ultra-modern roof. She has not brought an offering of food; she does not carry a sleeping bag. She bears a gift much harder-earned - all she dares to give.

Mikoto Minagi lands on a perfectly-manicured back lawn, hand laid flat to the ground. She has cleaned up, in the interim; the long sleeves of Ohtori's uniform have been traded for long sleeves of a lighter fabric, black with magenta trim. A red cloak shields her from the rain as she rights herself.

She walks to the garden, pulls a folded note from her pocket, and crouches down to skewer it on the tomato-stalk. She is as a butcher-bird, displaying what she has caught on twisted tree. It is difficult to believe it is Mikoto's handwriting, seeing it for the first time; it is equally unmistakable, seeing it a second. Hers is a samurai's artful hand. It is expressive.

It says: 'Thank you.'

A new line, 'I'm okay now.'

A new line,

a feather-light trail of ink, as if the pen has passed uncertainly over the page,

but the character she found the courage to begin is only a line,

and it trembles at the end of its stroke, and it is


Her hand is expressive, and in this she says that there is so much she cannot say.

There is a curious omission of signature.

Mikoto straightens from where she has speared it through, and looks back to the smooth-smooth walls of the Kaname household, the light shining through the broad glass. For a moment she hesitates, there, so close to the door which would lead her inside. Her hand rises; her fingers curl in. Madoka, she thinks and does not say - Madoka.

But whatever it is Madoka needs, it's not something someone like Mikoto can help her with, she reminds herself. Her hand lowers. Without a word she leaps from wall to rooftop again, and from there she ought to leave. She really - really ought to leave.

It's just, she's worried that... are they taking care of her?

They promised, back then, in the Labyrinth. Madoka asked them to take care of her, and they promised. And...

'You need to pull yourself together.'

... it hurts, asking and being ignored.

Mikoto does not think she can give Madoka any solace. She really can't make things better. But it doesn't stop her from personally - privately...

It's fine if she just monitors the situation, she decides, as she crouches there against the flat roof. She's surely not doing anything wrong by listening.

It's not like she's going inside.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Earlier ...

Fuu listened politely as Madoka's father explained his request. As a student at Infinity - and as a magical girl who had deliberately removed herself from the feud between the Chevaliers and the Shepherds - she's been slow to hear about casualties ... and she's been keeping her own thoughts painfully close to her own heart after hearing about the latest death, even without knowing the details of it.

"I don't know how much help I can truly be, Kaname-san," Fuu replies to Madoka's parents - implicitly both of them, after Junko adds her words to Tomohisa's - "but yes, I'll be there. At the very least, I can show my support for her in person."

... Now

Fuu's not usually a loud sort of person, but there's a somberness to her usual polite quiet on this occasion. The chill that comes with the steady rain is warded off by a dark green cardigan over her simple dress, a slightly lighter shade; the rain itself is kept at bay by a combination of umbrella and raincoat, both left to dry in the entryway with other wet-weather outerwear and accoutrements.

And she carries a small bag of cookies - home-made, it would seem. Certainly not the best to be found in Tokyo; home ec is one of Fuu's weaker subjects, especially when improvisation is called for, but she did have her mother's help to offset her own lack of skill.

"Hello, Madoka-san," Fuu says gently as she enters the room, mustering a friendly little smile (although her polite bow hides it, a little bit and briefly). "I was ... I'm sorry I haven't been in touch."

It's an apology that she needs to direct at a bunch of people besides Madoka, and her gaze skitters around the room as she finishes that sentence.

But thoughts of *that* conflict are shoved ruthlessly to the back of her mind, at least for now. She can apologize to others later, as specifically as she needs to, but *not* in front of Madoka - an innocent who's in far more pain than she could ever deserve. Instead, Fuu adds, "If there's anything I can do to help you, please ask ... I want to help. Somehow. If I can. If any of us can."

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

The Yagami clan have their own mourning to do. This they try to do with smiles; it was Reinforce's final wish that they celebrate the miracle that brought them here, the wonder of even having the option to grieve. But if one of the clan finds themselves taking an unusually long trip out back, well, everybody has done their best to be accomodating.

Vita was returning from something else, Eisen slung full-formed over her shoulder in his polo form, when Shamal leans in from the kitchen, phone tucked in the crook of her neck to flag her down. "'zat the--" Vita begins.

"Ah, she's just arrived. Yes, I think it'd be good for both of them," Shamal says, and Vita's head twists nearly horizontal.


Vita Yagami appears at the Kaname house's door armed with: One (1) Pint of strawberry ice cream; One (1) bunny plush the size of a dog; one (1) dog the size of a wolf; one (1) set of red and bunny-pattern pajamas. "Ah, we don't," the fire-haired girl says, the words sticking in her throat shyly. "Uhm, that is I didn't--"

Zafira nudges her in, and she sucks in a breath and skitters inward. She barely knows this girl, on a personal level. They've run into each other; been around, spoken a few words. Vita took aim at her once, and passed her up other times. But what Vita does know is how important this girl is to so many of the others - through witnessing their sorrow firsthand, from the other side of the field. She drops her delivery off, marches up and discovers a surprising crush. So Vita, in the way of both shy children and boorish adults...finds herself a chair, an elaborate, wooden affair with icons of angels and demons etched beautifully into the back, plops herself on it, and then sits there hugging her bunny.

Zafira did not come inside. Zafira has taken up roost on the other side of the roof, because dogs can fly.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Inevitabilis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqTKnzG4qEQ

The room fills up with people and with desserts. There's honestly something more than a little funereal about the latter -- offerings to the dead being an extremely everyday and normal and present sort of ritual in the lives of almost anyone who has known this kind of loss previously. Painstakingly made flans, oozing replacements for an ice cream bar no longer in this world, clumsy cookies, thoughtfully storebought chocolates and cookies and cupcakes... even Kaoru-san's donuts. Ice cream, which will melt into that perfect sludgy in-between state betwixt solid and liquid, before long.

They bring something sweet into the room that wasn't there before.

The people are better for that, though. The accompaniment of PEOPLE, loving people, caring people, offsets that eerie feeling... enough.

And more with every set of words.

Madoka is not a very rewarding audience right now, all but a corpse herself on the bed. She is more alert for the strong-voiced, the confident, than she is for the hesitant. There is a strong sense, as she lies there on the bed, of a shell of silence and stillness around her. It could be a cabbage, or seven veils, or a rose with her at its heart, but it isn't any of those things. It is turtles, and crabs, and armadillos. It is armor. It is PROTECTION.

When Usagi comes to sit at the end of the bed, she makes a tiny soft noise. It is her first, and, eventually, the other girl feels a tiny pressure at the small of her back... the tip of Madoka's stockinged toe.

As much connection as she dares to make, right now.

It isn't enough.

They're all here -- here for HER, as many of them emphasize. All for her. She's so lucky. The luckiest girl in the world.

She doesn't deserve it.


Her breathing starts to accelerate. It's not the good kind of fast, breathy, like dead spiderweb. It crackles around something lodged deeply within her.

Her voice, when it comes, is small and shrill and squeezed. Everyone's heard it, countless times; giggling when Sayaka spun and spun and spun her around. Softly encouraging Mami. Yelling fiercely and miserably at Eri. Somehow, someway finding a hopeful tone for Kyouko. Crying at the airport, at karaoke. Screaming as she runs away from monsters -- so many, many, many monsters. Everyone in this room has saved her life at least once, if indirectly, and most have saved it very directly, indeed.

They know what her happiness sounds like, and her sadness, and her fear, and this is the latter. It has all the emotion that her face does not, though it, too, is beginning to contort, the blast doors shuttering as her eyes screw shut and her forehead knots and her teeth clench.

"Everyone..." she gets out, as she reluctantly pulls herself up... and then, protectively, wraps her arms around her knees and plants her chin on top of them for support. An upright Balloka.

"...I'm sorry..."

She can't do this.

She can't do this.

She can't do this.

She can't do this to them.

She can't do this to herself.

Some may mistake this apology for her full statement and begin to reassure her -- there is a long moment in which to do so, time for many, many words and gestures -- but she interrupts them all, in the end.

I can't do this.

She does it anyway, because she has to.

The words are softer than before. Hoarser. Something inside her is broken and she can't, she can't, she can't do this...

"...Mami, and Sayaka, and Kozue, and Kyouko, and Eri," she whispers, staring at everyone and no one, desperately retreating into the middle distance, away from what she's about to unleash, even though she, perhaps, needs the others more than anyone.

"They all... died..."

OOC: This is a deliberately two-part pose looking for two-part reactions (though it doesn't have to be super long). People are
highly encouraged to react to the apology (and each other) and say things, even quite long things, be interrupted by Madoka's
news, and react to that (and each other).

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

There is another girl, among those who have come in, who is quiet. She came in with Usagi Tsukino, and remains with her for the moment in silence. Smaller than the others, she, too, looks to Madoka as she comes in, sits down, and nods quietly.

Chibi-Usa understands grief that strikes so fiercely that there are no words for it, and her eyes are dry--not because of lack of tears, but because of many before.

...She keeps hold of Usagi's hand, and doesn't acknowledge it if anyone sees. But she stays near Madoka, anyway. ...Unlike that one time... She can stay.

But another red-eyed girl is waiting, closer. She notices the little bit of alertness at least, just as she notices the shell. It could be any of those things... But it is a protection.

When the voice comes, Setsuna knows it. She's heard Madoka in all of those ways, so many feelings. ...Fear, too. Both when she's caused it... and when she's tried to defend Madoka from it. She remains silent, as much out of simple necessity as courtesy--it takes Setsuna more time than bare moments to figure out what she's going to say. So, Madoka speaks to them, and Setsuna waits.

...She waits, until the apology, and at first Setsuna says nothing else, waiting for Madoka to finish... But then she doesn't. She doesn't finish; she remains quiet, and Setsuna starts again to think, as she did before. What can she say? She knew, before; she has no words to make it better. Even the people who are good with words don't have those.

"...Okay," the girl from Labyrinth says, instead. Not 'it's okay.' Not 'you'll be fine.' Those things--the former isn't true, the latter hopefully... but is it helpful? No. But Setsuna can hear her, acknowledge her feeling.

Her gestures are more expressive. For all that her features barely move, her eyes are liquid, looking at Madoka; studying, absorbing, feeling... Everything she can't say can be seen in them, if someone just knows how to look; the tiny arrangement of her hands, folding, shows her focus, the little dip of her head, the slouch of her shoulders, the difficulty and solemnity of the moment. "...It doesn't help, knowing that it isn't your fault," Setsuna says, and it isn't really a question, as she says it softly, looking down now, instead of trying to find Madoka's eyes. Doing both at once is too hard.

"...When someone is so important... They're really... More than just 'there.' I never knew, how important someone could be, but now, even thinking of this... I only--"

Setsuna stops, immediately, when Madoka starts talking. She stops, and blinks--and her eyes widen, suddenly. Two, she knew. ...One, she suspected. Two, she had no idea. All at once, the context rearranges itself for the dark-haired girl with the donuts, who opens her mouth and then closes it again. What she'd prepared for, she'd prepared, but--

But this revelation stuns her into silence. Said, this way, so many...

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Madoka Kaname is not alone. That fact is being made abundantly clear here and now, with love and friendship crowding into the bedroom to offer support. There's a warmth in Mai's heart at being part of that support, being here in the wake of tragedy.

(Maybe there's also a small burn of jealousy, adding to that warmth. Just maybe.)

Somehow, though, Mai has trouble finding her courage. Gentle eloquence from familiar voices like Fuu or Kasagami, silent reassurance from caring hearts like Nori or Usagi - she can't match either approach with doubt-weighed hands and sorrow-choked voice. All she managed to do was find a seat after setting out the amateurish little mochi she brought.

Being familiar with this kind of pain doesn't mean Mai ever figured out how to make it better.

Hearing that pain all over again in Madoka's voice means she has to at least try.

"It...stops hurting." Mai's voice catches even her off guard, but there's a crack in a dam and something's got to flow. "Blaming yourself, wondering if there's something more you could have - should have done - it makes the loss stop hurting. It just makes it into something a lot heavier, lingering, haunting..."

Mai stands up, shakily, resting a hand on the chair she picked out. "...please. You're allowed to hurt, Madoka-chan - you're allowed to ask for help, because the alternative isn't...isn't a good way to live your life. Seriously, it-"

There's a lump in her throat, that she has to swallow down before she can continue.

There's broken words from Madoka, before she can continue.

There's a list of the dead, before she can continue.

Three unexpected names pierce Mai's heart like an ice pick, and she falls back into her chair heavily enough that it nearly topples. She'd known about Mami, and she'd heard vagaries about Sayaka - but the rest are news that slam home all at once.

The room is largely dark, so the pallor of Mai's face can't be readily seen. Her eyes, staring out into the curtain-blocked rainstorm, can't be seen as they match that flow. Maybe her silhouette, going as limp as a ragdoll - but maybe not.

Mai's voice has no confidence or conviction when next she speaks - it's a timid pair of syllables, in a quiet little broken plea.


<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Rei has this shuddering feeling, looking at a girl like a corpse, that this room might need an exorcism -- as if some terrible spirit has landed on Madoka's shoulders. But she is sure there are no ghosts, here, not the way she understands them. She only sees the ghost of grief, which hollows girls and leaves their cheeks dipped inward rather than out. There are so many shades to wrongness. Sometimes they are painfully mundane.

And ofuda will not dispel these shadows, but maybe cupcakes will. (They brought their snacks in, of course.)

Rei is not surprised to hear Madoka first responding to Usagi. Usagi is here for Madoka. Rei is glad for it.

Breath accelerates, and everyone is here for Madoka. Rei's eyes turn to her, purple deep like a lake, and Madoka squeezes out words the same way Rei would squeeze an orange for breakfast. The sort of squeezing which pushes at the pulp until there's nowhere for it to go, the comparison strikes her; twisted against plastic until it is distended, crushed into a much, much smaller space than it was meant to occupy.

(Rei is a rather violent juicemaker.)

"You've done nothing to apologise for!" Rei says, too quickly, because Rei can never be accused of not speaking her mind. (She may, if one is brave enough, be accused of not stopping to think before she does so.) "This isn't your fault, Madoka-chan! You've been trying as hard as any of us -- or even harder! Don't be this hard on yourself, not now-!!"

Here she takes a big breath, as if she's going to launch into even more of an impassioned speech.

Except - Madoka wasn't done talking.

In another context it might be comical: Rei's mouth hanging open from where it didn't quite manage to finish the mechanical motion, her protective fire doused by shock. It might have been a reaction to Usagi saying something ridiculous - or Ami pointing out that her test scores were almost as bad - or Setsuna upstaging her - or...

It's not that she's never dealt with death before. She has helped many people past the grief, in her shrine. It's just - those people - she knew them. Fought with some of them - ate cake with others - at one point she was eating cake and yelling at one of them, it was a show of remarkable talent - and that's, one, two, three, four - five girls - and they're all --

Sometimes, very rarely, death gets better.

Not everyone is so lucky.

Her jaw moves, and for a moment no sound comes out. When it does, it is thin and quiet. "I'm sorry," Rei says, and she has found that she has slumped quite deep into the circular chair indeed. "I... didn't realise..." Of course she didn't; she wasn't there.

She looks to Usagi, expression drawn taut, but Usagi is looking to Madoka.

And Rei still doesn't know what to say.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Other people come in. Nori slides out of her shawl and leaves it to mark her chair. She smiles at Setsuna, and at Steven, and it is at that point she reluctantly leaves her chair to move to the sideboard with the sweets. "If I don't do this now, we shall all be too crowded..."

The flan is cut into thin, wobbling slices, glistening white with a faintly buttery-tangy undertaste and a caramalized top. The sauce is homemade.

Nori feels the sense of companionship. Kasagami is given a rather wistful smile, and she - and Setsuna Meioh, too - are invited to a bit of flan. (As are others; including Usagi in particular; but inviting Usagi to sweets is not, exactly, what they call a difficult decision.) As Nori makes her way back to sit, she places a plate where Madoka can sample, if she wishes.

As she settles in...

"Madoka... you have no need to apologize," Nori says, gentle and heartfelt. She raises her spoon. Mai Tokiha is speaking up. It's alright. It's going to be alright. You go through the bitter waters, Nori thinks as her spoon lowers, to get to the sweet.

'and Kyouko, and Eri,' Madoka whispers.

Nori freezes.

She feels like she's falling.

Kyouko was not someone Nori knew well. Eri was someone who Nori did not like much. And yet, and yet. Despite Eri's killing (Nori remains unsure, and perhaps will now always never know, that it was a murder by the lights of her nation). Despite Kyouko's struggle against them.

"The both of them...?" Nori says, her voice small.

She slumps back, and looks over, eyes wide. "Madoka..."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami's jaw tightens. She doesn't actually move, but the young woman radiates a desire, an instinct, the first unconscious thought to do so. Empathy and sorrow don't abate. Long legs could take her over to Madoka Kaname in an instant, her body a coiled spring as the girl breathes in an utterly unhealthy way.

It's a fraction, but she leans Setsuna Meioh's way. Her fire wells up in her chest. Should she hold the girl? Grip her shoulder? There's no way to tell what would help Madoka. It's the pain of losing someone so dear, expressed in a uniquely way that's pure Madoka. Heartbreak made plain, and Kasagami wishes she could simply carve, cut, and slash away that kind of suffering.

But cutting and steel have no place here. It's only helped this pain along. She swallows, face growing a little ashen as Madoka, sweet loving Madoka, apologizes.

Kasagami sits straight up suddenly, hard enough that her back impacts the iron of her hard chair and it actually rings a little at the release of tension. It'll bruise in the morning. Right now she doesn't notice.

Her left hand is outstretched. It's half point, half reaching out as if to cover the too long distance and take Madoka's hand. Both eyes are wide open. "Madoka!" It might seem angry for the first syllabel, but it's choked into sorrow. "Don't. Please! Do not start apologizing. There's no reason. Not from you. You're the one who has always loved, and cared and hoped! Crying, screaming, that's all fine! But not...."

Kasagami shifts unconsciously closer to her love. An instinct, for her own sake? For Pluto's? All she knows is she needs that warmth, that closeness, and to give in turn even at just such a small touch. So that she doesn't fly into a rant and scare the girl. To unleash those furious passions, or to let her love draw too deep into wells of sadness.

It doesn't always help, no amount of screaming or crying can when the wound's deep enough. Her mouth feels like a desert. Kassie's gaze shifts over to Mai. Then back to Madoka. A firm, hard nod. She may not agree with all of what Mai has said.

"It'll crush you if...!!!" A whisper.

And then Madoka speaks the names of the dead.

The Duelist's hand slips, goes limp. She seems to lose all of that tension, like a rubber band that snapped in two. Her head tilts downwards acheingly slow as bangs cover part of her face.

It's not quite a collapse from her chair, Kasagami clearly wants to curl up into a ball on the floor. Disbelief written on her face as tears begin to streak oh-so-slowly.

Kasagami doesn't speak. She mouths words, in between a whispered, half-spat laugh completely lacking in humor. When she finally finds a word?

"...No. No, no they wouldn't. Kyou-chan, Eri-chan...You're wrong. Wrong. That's impossible. They wouldn't!"

Kassie feels sick, her thankfully empty stomach heaving and mouth full of acid.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Talks grow somber quickly within the room.

If the dead could talk, what would they say, Steven wondered. Would they grieve for those they couldn't see again? Would they plead for those still alive to keep going?

There was little Steven could accurately say that others weren't already! And if anything, this was in one of the few areas he couldn't reach out well, if their conversation onlooking King Pengiun was any evidence.

Not that trying wasn't in the cards.

"Um." He waits for a moment to get a word in. "I know it hurts. It'll hurt for a while. But... I believe you'll see happy times yet!"

And of course the sweet twintailed cherub has nothing but apologies in trade. "Nothing to be sorry for. If... if this happened to one of us, would you not be there for them?" He is absolutely sure she would be.

Mami and Sayaka are not alone in their fate. "Oh, that's..." He knew them little, but that doesn't detract their fate any less. "Awful..." The power of the Magi is a terrible one if their fate lands them in a grave.

Steven remains seated in his chair as he watches others come to Madoka's side, and while he doesn't make a move there to let closer friends embrace or comfort her more closely, a pair of wide, thoughtful eyes remain trained on her. Kind eyes.

Eyes that say 'I am here for you, no matter what.'

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

There are some people who don't know what Madoka's apologizing for. Fuu, on the other hand, looks understanding rather than confused - even if she might be on the wrong track.

"We might not all know each other as well as we'd like to, but we *are* all here as your friends, Madoka-san," the bespectacled archer says, her smile still gentle, but now less forced. "Nobody should ever have to grieve alone. So please, don't apologize for burdening us ..."

But it's not just Mami, whom Fuu had heard about from another, and Sayaka, whose death she'd just heard about. Kozue, Kyouko, Eri ... two names she doesn't really know - but one that spears through her heart, draining the strength from her legs. Even if they weren't on good terms; they can never make up, now, and the gulf will remain forever.

Fortunately, Fuu is close enough to a vacant chair to sink into it, her own eyes haunted behind her glasses. Her lips move, as though to ask 'when' or 'how' or some other meaningless detail, but there's no sound to fill in the shape of a word unspoken.

Slowly, Fuu removes her glasses, folding them with careful, deliberate movements and lowering her hands to her lap with that fragile burden. "I hadn't heard," she finally says. "I'm sorry to hear ... but, it's ... something I should know. Thank you ..."

She lifts her emerald gaze, even though her vision is foggy without the lenses, regardless of the misting of her eyes. Her lips part again, then close; she's not sure what to say. She wants to comfort Madoka, but she doesn't know how else she can, what words might soothe a heart in anguish without a risk of making the hurt even worse.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

It is hardly the first time Sailor Pluto has had to stand by and observe an unfair portion of sorrow on the face of the girl who will someday be her liege. She sees, but consciously does not look overlong; it feels invasive. She hurts for Usagi, but silently.

Harder, almost impossible, to keep from reaching out to her very first, very best friend. The spent quality of Small Lady's dry eyes rips at Setsuna. If only she could protect her princess's heart from all of this, somehow... But -- she's also proud. Well she knows what feats of love and support that brave heart is capable of.

Similarly, it is so much harder to pull her gaze away.

It aches terribly to sit round a nearly inanimate Madoka Kaname, to see all the love and the worry pouring her way. But it aches worse when Madoka begins to move, to react. To evince her terrible pain. To speak....

An apology. Setsuna draws a long, slow breath. It shudders in her lungs.

She joins the chorus. "There is nothing for you to apologize for, Kaname-san," That gentle voice of hers, so often sorrowful, is humble too. She leans back into Kassie, responding consciously to that subconscious plea -- willing comfort through the contact. The swordswoman's closeness helps her keep going.

"Mourning... takes its own time." She thinks she knows who Madoka mourns, and she is only partly right. "But you do not have to do it alone. There are others who could share it with you." There is a sense of personal separation, the way Setsuna says that -- because she does not feel herself among those others, those who can rightfully mourn Sayaka Miki and Kozue Kaoru. Not considering her place in what has come to pass. Not considering...

"You are owed the apology." The poised young woman's chin dips, and her head bows deeply toward the balled-up girl on the bed. Setsuna Meioh does not know if it is the time, or the place, but... what will waiting do, save make the moment less likely to come to pass? She has done far too much waiting.

Setsuna draws another long breath. "I am sorry, Kaname-san." For the cruel doubt she did not need to express, at karaoke. For what Madoka has lost. Shame and sorrow are in her voice. She has no expectation of forgiveness, would not even if Madoka seemed in a better state to consider such a thing. Especially not after what has happened. It is still something the Outer Senshi needs to say.

She is pressing her knee against Kassie's again, silent and subtle about her need to connect -- seeking reassurance from her love -- when Madoka speaks up again.

When Madoka keeps speaking.

Setsuna doesn't understand the connection between the names until Madoka's last word falls like a stone. The senshi is sure it has dropped directly onto her chest. Why else would she feel this crushing pressure?

"No..." she whispers, but only wishes she could disbelieve. Madoka's very presence prevents that, her mien, her unbrookable grief.

Kyouko. Eri...

Her dark cheeks go ashen. She begins to ask, out of sheer reaction, how, but stops herself -- the thought is immediate and sickening. They all understand, now, how doomed the Puella Magi are. She and Kassie were just talking about it, just worrying about it. And suddenly Setsuna does not want to know how these newest tragedies befell her... friends.

Her friends.

She hadn't thought to make those, coming to the Tokyo of Here and Now. It was no part of the Outer Senshis' plans, no part of their task. But the lonely guardian did, and now...

She has only begun to process this loss, but she knows it for one by the grief which wells up to thicken her throat and dampen her eyelashes. Mute, she reaches for her girlfriend's hand, turns to Kasagami amid those denials. Here is another girl she loves, she wishes she could protect from sorrow... And she cannot. She cannot even protect herself.

Now, Setsuna mourns with Madoka, and the rest.

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Vita holds fast to her bun, this depth of despair not common for her. But not wholly unknown, either...She knows this species of pain. So she finally hops off that chair, shuffling over. She ends up next to Steven, because the shot framing works best with two people of similar height, red hair in pigtails framing the intruding bunny plush's head. "Sorry?" she says, briefly. This she feels like she can speak to. "Nobody's come here to make you sorry. That's not--"

That's not what she's talking about.

Vita's eyes widen. She'd heard about some. The first two were the worst, in their way; she'd met Mami personally, spoken with her and grown fond - as so many had found was easy. Sayaka had fought her as effectively as anyone. She'd been hoping to bury that hatchet, someday. Not like this.

The others are...numbers, to her. But what a number. "Five..." she whispers.

It makes a grim sense to her. Vita's seen grimmer battles than the norm. This is how tragedies play out, sometimes; every participant dead, and everyone who knew them left behind to grieve, to mourn, but more than that to boggle, in agony, at the shattered pieces these lives left behind.

This is the first time she stands in such proximity to it. Her mouth feels dry. Reinforce's final, hopeful wish, the thing she'd been hoping she could bring to this place, feels like ash in her mouth.

"Sometimes it all comes apart," she murmurs, quietly. That may be at herself, and maybe for Steven, more than the mourners.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Don't think that the reassurances -- being told not to apologize in a half-dozen ways, being counter-apologized to, being told that it's okay to feel, okay to be herself, even just being looked at by kind eyes or touched by kind hands -- don't think that Madoka didn't hear them, didn't see them, didn't feel them. That they didn't matter because she interrupted them, had to interrupt them. That those individual puzzle-pieces of compassion didn't enter her heart, one at a time, each beautiful and powerful in their own way, and take root.

But seeds take time to grow.

Time, and sunlight. And this is a dark moment.

Some grieve in shocked silence. Some say their names, or HER name. Some cry now and some are too stunned to cry right away. Some apologize in return. Some deny. Some accept.

Madoka has had every single one of these feelings in the last twenty-four hours, and many others besides.

Just now she felt fear -- to cause this kind of suffering in the others -- and also fear at having to feel their suffering. Her own is too much. Everyone else's...


It's Madoka, after all.

She stays in that tight little ball, but she doesn't hide her face, doesn't turn away from it, from all of them. She can no more do so than she can sprout wings and fly.

They grieve and she grives too, with them, together, silent tears pouring down her face like the spring of eternal misery, renewed for what must be yet another round. The connection she didn't want to face flows through her, through them, through them all.

Pain shared is not pain halved tonight. But at least they have one another.

"I'm sorry," she repeats, in a wet cough. Struggling, she wheezes out a little more. "Eri-chan and Kyouko-chan, they... they couldn't... go on. At least... they didn't... become... like Sayaka..."

The unbelievable awfulness of this reassurance reverberates miserably in Madoka's wavering vibrato. She definitely needs a hug, and leans forward, very slightly, drawn like a distant magnet, towards Kasagami's limp, no longer outstretched hand, which may well be the beginning of a chain reaction.

Amid all this, however, comes an interruption.

Perhaps Rei was more right than she thought.

There IS a presence among them.

There are many stuffies here, actually, beyond the bunny Vita toted in; they fill chairs that don't have people in them, with the place of greatest pride upon a shelf above the bed. There are a dozen plush creatures there or more. A mouse. A dragon. A bear. Another bunny. Between the well-worn bluebird, shabby with love, and the droopy-eared puppy, there's one more, with pristine white fur, a fluffy white tail, perky cat ears, floppy ears that flow out of the first set of ears, soft soft perfect pawsies, and extremely intelligent pink eyes, which are fixed




Though they drift around the room as the Incubator addresses the collective. Although it has a rather feline nose and mouth, it 'speaks' directly into the mind, with the same telepathy Puella Magi and Midchildans use.

<< It is not an unexpected development. The signs were there for a while. >>

Unlike magical girls, though, the Incubator's voice mostly lacks inflection. It is very calm; no, clinical is a better word.

Madoka uncurls -- unfurls like that rose she isn't, her armor sloughing off like so much heavy, cloying mud, her friends around her not so much cast aside as interposed between with her in front -- leaving her vulnerable pink skin, pink soul, revealed beneath -- to glare daggers up at the Incubator above her. Fury replaces misery, but don't mistake it for a lack of distress.

Her voice, rusty with disuse and clogged with tears, cracks on its way into her squeaky stratosphere of rage.

"Are you saying it doesn't matter? Even though they died because of you?! Is it true what Homura said, that you try to turn us into Puella Magi, so that we'd then mature into Witches?"

It lifts its chin and looks around the room.

<< What she said is not incorrect. >>

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

The time when others speak, Setsuna Higashi is still silent. Allies, enemies--the line was always blurred, for her, or always shifted, now and then. But no 'side' has the monopoly on presence here... or, it seems...

She can't offer any words about grief, generally. She can't offer anything like that. It is awful. But it's Kasagami who first prompts Setsuna to speak, and...

"It's not a matter of would, or wouldn't," the girl from Labyrinth murmurs quietly. "We don't always get the choice, to stay, or to go. ...I'm sorry."

She reaches out, touches Nori's hand--and stands.

She closes the distance immediately, and it isn't only her, either. Setsuna shifts, sits onto the bed, and wraps her arms around Madoka tightly. Some things don't need thinking, or words, or complicated anything, because they are here, and they are now, and she doesn't let go.

A little pink-haired girl on the other side, too, has brought herself up onto the bed, practically curled up against Madoka next to her, unable to speak.

But Setsuna listens, still. She is able, she just... doesn't, at first. "...They didn't..."

'At least they didn't become like Sayaka.' How awful is it, that it's like that? And yet--

Kyubey speaks, and Setsuna doesn't let go at first--but she does turn, blink. Calm, clinical... The signs were there?

She can't stop Madoka for interposing herself, naturally, but at first she blinks. "...It's true that it was possible things would end horribly, but--"

But no, Kyubey isn't merely unemotional, Setsuna realizes with Madoka's rage. Her eyes widen--and the answer, calculating, quiet, comes. The girl from Labyrinth stares--

And her expression shifts, too. It is all too familiar, to those who once fought her, the rare, rare showing of Setsuna Higashi's rage. "You--You knew!?" Setsuna asks, incensed.

"You--You do it on--"

She stares, red eyes wide, focused still.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

There's a noise somewhere between a squawk and a yelp, utterly surprised and utterly improper, and swiftly followed by a loud thud as Fuu, startled out of her semi-withdrawal by the Incubator's mental 'voice,' winds up seated on the floor instead of in her chair. The tinkle of broken glasses is probably lost in the moment; certainly Fuu doesn't realize it. She has good reason to miss it right now.

"Who said ... what ARE you?!" exclaims the blonde archer, staring at where she thinks the voice came from - not once but twice, now. Fuu has never spoken to Kyubey before, so her surprise is probably understandable. The shock which follows after it, as the words both telepathic and spoken sink in, is probably just as understandable.

"Signs ... you knew what was going to happen? Are *you* the reason five girls - good girls, well-meaning girls - are dead?!" There's no accusation in Fuu's voice; if anything, the predominant emotion in her tone is fear, or more aptly, terror. A distant corner of her mind is catching up and realizing how far off the mark she might be, but ... well. Adrenaline.

She has a LOT of adrenaline pumping through her body and brain right now. That's never good for methodical, rational thinking. Nor is it good for realizing she isn't actually *in* her chair any more.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPL87C_C_5k

They couldn't...

Go on.

The bleakness of that moment of relief settles onto Nori. Some part of her can metabolize this feeling, but it is long, cold work. For a moment the thought comes to her again: This world, perhaps, is not...

She is interrupted by Setsuna Higashi. She smiles at her faintly, wanly.

And then a new note slides into her awareness.

What had seemed like a bleak, dizzy trudge of weakness and despair, a staggering through wintertime mud, comes into sudden focus.

Focus rooted in hope. Joy, almost.

"Kyubey!" Nori says, straightening up. "Oh! Oh, you're alive!? But how--" Madoka is straightening up, and Nori's eyes turn towards her, the eruption of something like joy freezing.

The blue seas in Nori's eyes reeze over slowly. She tastes bile in the back of her throat, made sickly-sweet from the flan. Her mouth slowly works, wordlessly. After three - four - seven attempts, she finally says, "But..."

"... but... why would you...?"




Nori feels her body tremble. Just a little. Her breath quickens. She feels something warm slide into her face. The world is doing that little juddering film-skipping feeling, from swift saccading of the eyes or some disruption in the flow of sorrow in Nori's dark and tender heart.

"You took them... from... us..."

The spoon in Nori's hand, which she had almost forgotten, beats a little wet tattoo on the dish in her hand.

My heart is going to burst, Nori thinks. I can't become a Siren here. Not without the Pharos. I didn't think I would need it-- not in Madoka's house -- but -- but Kyubey is here and it is true, it is true, the beast has not denied it...

The burst of anger dissipates, or at least is cycled underground, as tears begin to flow from Nori's eyes.

"Why!? Why did you do that!? All they ever wanted to do was to help people!! E-Even Eri was just a difficult girl!! She didn't deserve to die, even after everything!!" Nori cries out. (Kyouko she does not know about, of course; but two make a clear trend.)

"Why? Why?? WHY??? WHY?!?!" Nori cries out, the tears coming in twitching rivulets as her mouth contorts.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

There's gasps in the room. Outcries of sorrow, disbelief, rage, a dozen different emotional outbursts in response to Madoka's news. There's words of comfort and words of grief and Mai can't hear any of it.

Five lives lost. The mirror she tested herself against, the would-be hero, the fellow sister protecting a brother, the feral friend to Mikoto, and...

And one of Mai's closest friend, her sister by another mother.

All gone. One tragedy after another, and she'd let herself fall so out of touch she didn't even-

Madoka's speaking again. That much is a beacon in the darkened room, and Mai tries to listen, tries to understand. Tries - and yet, in her ears, old words seem to echo all over again.

...I don't know what else to do. If I stop - I die. And then I'm no good to anyone.

...there's no way to save her. There's just surviving until she can't any more, and...there's nothing anyone can do about that.

I don't want it to not be fair!

Her little sister is gone. Eri didn't become like Sayaka...but she's gone. No final trip to see the mountains, no peaceful words, just-

...Eri was Madoka's friend too. All five of them were, right?

There's a faint gasp from Mai, and then she's pushing her chair back, scrambling forward, falling to her knees by the side of Madoka's bed. She can't - she can't get as close as she did to Mikoto, she just can't, but at least there's a presence, an outstretched hand at last.

"I'm...I'm sorry. I'd hoped - or dreamed - or may be I could have...." She is sorry. Sorry she didn't intervene sooner in the grand clash of ideals, that she stood by...

And then there is a voice without sound, a presence without humanity.

Mai's teary gaze darts around in confusion - she only really knows of Kyubey by reputation, by what Eri had told her in marginally happier days. It's a clinical voice, detached, speaking as if everything was inevitable-

-and then Madoka speaks in earnest anger, giving Mai a direction to look in.

There's shouts of rage and puzzled questions and cries of grief, and Mai's voice joins the chorus in short order. One hand tightens around Madoka's blanket, if only to have something to grab while her gaze burns into the Incubator's cute little throat.

"So it wasn't an accident." Her voice is low, burning like embers, bile in her throat keeping her from screaming like the situation deserves. "Granting that wish that ruined Eri's life - ruining all their lives - was on purpose."

She doesn't ask why. No reason could matter.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

THe sentiments continue to pour out. Madoka, thankfully, begins to react. It isn't much, but they weren't expecting a miracle turnaround in one night. A small smile curls on Steven's face. A polite one.

The boy looks ot his side to see Vita. He gives her a single nod. "I bet together we can put it back together again." It may not be the same shape as it was once before, but if your best friend tried to fix something that was broken before returning it to you, is the thought of effort not worth something?

Watching her friends go to her is uplifting. THe spirit of a community come together around someone.

Madoka is the least magical, and is the most magical.

She is the kindest, and deserves the most kindness.


The sound of an unfamiliar, sterile voice echoes in his mind, and yet he knows the direction it comes from somehow. He tenses in his seat, looks across the room.

A catlike creature. He has seen it once before, a long while back.

Things escalate quickly. A sweet voice for once with anger and rage. An accusation made. An accusation accepted. Steven understands Madoka's rage now.

"That's... awful! Sick! You are creating some horrible cycle doing that! What is even the purpose of it all?!" What a heartless little creature. But now a bit more makes sense. And more drifts into obscurity.

A hand grips the velvet of the seat sharply, indenting with fingers that could almost want to harm that... whatever it is.

He is at a loss of words for the moment now. He grips his seat tightly and just stares daggers at the little hateful thing.

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

..."So that's how it ended," Vita murmurs, quiet. Her arms wrap tighter around that plush. She's hurt the people here too much to run to them. She has no such right, even if it were more in her nature. So she clings to what she knows. But still, her eyes dip down. Lacking traction, she finds herself wondering how many people she's left in sorrow like this. Maybe, at least, that means it's over.

The sense of communication sparks her. It's a familiar enough sensation and she scans around the room until she finds the 'speaker.'

And what words he brings. No. It? Sure. Vita didn't know any of this. Those Witches that she'd hated so much had been--

Graf Eisen, at her chest, releases a quiet BONG like a distant churchbell, bringing her pulse into line. "...yeah," she whispers back to her partner, fingers tight. Just another monstrosity she'll have to spent a while putting together in her head, later. Not the first.

Still, she has to brace herself as the weeping begins. These poor girls - these people, in agony - have suffered to their limits and beyond, and now face something Vita actually knows rather well: A callous, uncaring master.

So as Nori wails and Fuu's fight-or-flight instincts pump chemicals into the fight half ot he equation, Setsuna shakes and freezes, Vita finds herself breathing, "Of course you knew..."

Her hands loosen on her bunny. Her gaze sharpens. "Of course you knew," she says, voice returning to her.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

It's both the closeness, that given love, the hand in her's that lets Kasagami come to some semblance of acceptance. A tiny little spark that dims the pain, if only enough that she doesn't completely fall to pieces in a swirl of denials. The Duelist's revolution back to a time of denials and worse is, at least for now, forestalled.

Setsuna Higashi beats her to it as Madoka reaches out to her in turn. Heavens forbid she find an excuse to not offer presence to the girl who's hurting so much, grief enough for everyone in the room to share. Step step. Sock-clad feet are silent on the floor. Her arm is all iron and yet all rubber as she pulls Pluto towards her own body, towards Madoka, towards an inevitable outpouring of love and pain and suffering and tangle of people wanting to make it better.

Kasagami didn't have such a thing when she felt that horrible sting. She can at least try to offer it to another here. Maybe all that strength that's done her so little can do something for Madoka if it's in the form of a wrapped, protective arm. One that is gentle when she has the mind to be, and in this instance? She has heart enough to back up such a comforting gesture even in the presence of those who were enemies.

And then the Incubator speaks, inflectionless tone in all of their heads. Kasagami goes rigid. Her neck turns hard enough that it aches, right to the source of that movement, to the intruder, to the pink eyed thing that dares intrude on a moment best kept private in this web of suffering joined today.

Madoka interposes. Kasagami Araki's stare is Kyuubey's alone as she gets a long, hard look to the second monster to steal away those that she called family with a longing and sincerity. She's already known the touch of flame.

Tonight the Duelist learns the agony of the deep chill as she gets every word of the Incubator straight into her skull.

Her back heel is on the floor rather than the bed, legs tense and knees bent. For the second time tonight, with a martial artist's well trained mental calculus, she's a coiled spring ready to leap to the offensive towards the thing accused of and not denying responsibility. Where Madoka glares daggers, Kasagami radiates a deep seated hatred she hasn't shown for a very long time. Half of her body burns. She bites her lip, and crimson touches it. Her right hand has finally released from Setsuna Meioh's. It's clenched, not closed, as though holding a particularly long style of blade. A promise, even without steel in her grasp from a Duelist. Her Rose Signet feels heavy and hot.

"...You're the one behind the...Eri...Kyouko...Kimiko too!? Name yourself, creature, thief of my family! My...No, OUR enemy!" It's a low snarl absolutely seething in rage.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

At least they didn't become like Sayaka.

Rei has heard, of course.

It's still difficult to absorb. Really, properly absorb. A girl - a good, passionate girl, who always seemed to Rei to be giving 110% of her best - became a Witch, one of those unerringly eldritch things which twists at her stomach as if she's just stepped off a too-steep stair.

(Usagi embraces Madoka, tightly, as if she could push her love through the barriers which separate them and make Madoka's skin hale and hearty again.)

And at first she pushes aside that unsettling feeling, because she is sure it is Madoka's sadness.

Maybe that was a mistake. Rei does err, on rare occasion.

Because one of the plushies is staring at Madoka - and there's a voice in her mind. "What?!" Rei demands, as she straightens upright in her chair. Her eyes find the Incubator, in all its fluffiness. The thing which was Kyubey. "If you saw the signs, why didn't you--!!"

Why didn't you, a critical little voice echoes in the back of her mind, and this one does not belong to an interloper. Why didn't you pay better attention to the flames, knowing what was brewing outside? Why didn't you work harder to unveil the message the cards dealt -- why didn't you look closer at the tea leaves -- why didn't you know?

She doesn't stop to think she isn't being fair to herself, when she has so much doom to process and she is already wearing herself frayed on the thin edge of the portents.

And then the Incubator confirms the awful truth, and for a moment she chokes on it. "You-- you--"

Rei stands, suddenly, sending the chair tumbling down behind her. It becomes a three-chair pileup, as bucket chair falls onto an old-style barstool and a little wooden chair one might find at an primary school. "You loathesome little - cat - ferret -- you," she spits invectives, pointing accusation. "How dare you do this to all those girls?! None of them deserve what you've done! They suffered so much, all Tokyo felt it! And you -- you -- it's on purpose?! You awful little worm!" She has finally figured out the best animal equivalent for this thing. It brings no joy to the rage written on her, the way sorrow sharpens her tone to a fine point. "How could you?!"

Usagi has not let go of Madoka, in whatever fashion she will allow. She stares at the Incubator in stunned silence, tears rimming at her eyelashes and threatening to spill over. Her mouth hangs ajar, cheeks blanche; the air dries her teeth and steals her words and she is silent.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

They... didn't go that way, at least. This Earth she has come to offers the coldest of comforts, at times. Still it is comfort, and that is a terrible thing.

In the end, Setsuna does not join the hug of her own accord -- she needs the connective caring of Kassie to pull her in, needs that permission to be a part of this coming-together. There are many here she has little connection to, and others... they share enmity rather than amity. Others yet, she wants very much to embrace but feels like she cannot. So she sees it begin to happen and knows -- thinks she knows -- that it is not for her.

She's already begun to sink into herself, to turn inward with her grief: to be alone, in exactly the same way Setsuna told Madoka she did not need to be. Even from Kassie, whom she feels belongs to this far more than she, whom she would not want to keep from this moment.

Her eyes go to her lap; she holds herself upright, a stiffness expressive of pain she does not voice. She's thinking of drinks and food and rare laughter shared with a sharp-eyed, sharp-minded redhead once upon an alliance ago; she's thinking of a snowy hill, and a pair of fox kits, and a handclasp.

She's thinking of a grey kitten who won't understand how tightly Setsuna is going to hold her, when she gets home.

But Setsuna reached for Kassie's hand, and Kassie has it; and as she always has and, if this unkind world is willing, always shall, the swordswoman reaches her senshi love through the lonely darkness.

Together they join the embrace, and it helps and it hurts, it mends her heart and rends it. Setsuna has grieved before in her long existence, oh how she has grieved; but never with others. The embrace squeezes the tears right out of her, and they roll down her cheeks and threaten to drip down onto the top of Madoka's head.

That unfamiliar, uninflected voice cuts through all of that. Madoka's anger shocks even more deeply. Setsuna pulls back, too.

Unconscionable. Every time Setsuna learns something more about what the Puella Magi must face, it gets ever more unthinkable. A warm, green gem, like an egg, in her palm...

Even as the anger smolders deep in her, even as it builds, she senses the change in the girl at her side. The coiling, the violent tension -- the withdrawal of a hand. As she looks around, she hears the snarl and the way Kasagami quivers upon the edge.

And she reaches, this time: with both hands, to cup a fist which aches to hold a blade. To encircle it in stillness, in warmth , in sympathetic sorrow. Above gleaming teartracks, the senshi's eyes burn, too. But she looks at Kasagami, not at the creature revealing its awful secrets, and searches to hold her gaze as well as her hands. In Time, says its Guardian's eyes.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Of course there are questions. The Incubator is eager to elaborate. To clarify. To clear things up.

But, it can't help but sit back on its haunches, balancing its weight on its dainty paws, as though nervous. Given the collective energy in the room, this is not unreasonable. It stands its ground, though, rather than flee, because their understanding is important. It matters.

And its mental voice, while incapable of being gentle, grows, at least, rather delicate. Solicitous.

Also a little bit pedantic. The tone of the schoolteacher. It's easy to listen to that voice, so knowledgable, so reasonable. And, not to be underestimated or ignored, also so light and bright, like Kero-chan or Mokona or Luna (on a good day) or even Raising Heart. It's easy to trust that voice.

That's what magical girls do.

<< Please... don't misunderstand!! It's not like we hold a grudge against humanity or anything. It is all for the sake of this world we all live in. Everyone, do you know what the word 'entropy' means? >>

The Incubator does NOT wait for Setsuna Meioh to answer the question.

<< Let me give you a simple example. The heat you get from a campfire isn't equal to the energy that's needed for that wood to grow. Some energy is lost when it changes form. >>

It pauses to lick one of its tiny paws with its equally tiny little pink tongue, and also to let those who aren't good at science, like Madoka Kaname, wrap their brains around the concept. But not long enough to interject; it continues soon enough.

To check in on her for a moment, Madoka is still on her knees but sinking slowly back downwards, staring at the Incubator. Her rage is not so much diminishing as being put in abeyance, like a banked fire. Her eyes are huge and glassy in her too-pale face. They were already filled with tears, tears for Eri and Kyouko and Kozue and Sayaka and Mami, and for everyone else in the room, too, but they're arrested by just being... overwhelmed. The Incubator, on top of everything, everyone else... it's just too much.

<< The energy of this universe is slowly diminishing, so we were looking for energy that wasn't bound by thermodynamics. And that's when we discovered the magic of the Puella Magi. >>

Fuu already asked the other question on everyone's mind, and the Incubator is happy to answer it. At length. In detail! All the while, so very chill and rational and correct, confident in the veracity and certitude of its revelations.

<< Our culture developed the technology that converts the emotions of conscious life forms into energy. Unfortunately, our species is incapable of what you call emotions. So we evaluated many other species in this universe, and finally found you humans. If you consider the population and emotional power of humans, the emotional energy that one person generates increases as that person grows. Your souls are... an energy source that counters entropy. >>

This is a big deal, its civilization's Holy Grail, and the Incubator treats it as such, which communicates that fact; when it discusses the impossibility of this -- this miracle -- real reverence enters its voice, and it stills any animalistic affectation and simply stares at the room, TRANSMITS, as though it is being extra respectful in the presence of the divine.

And what could be more sacred to an Incubator than the truth?

But it may make a mistake, next, when it -- unstintingly -- lays out a little too much detail.

<< And above all, the fluctuation of hope and grief in girls in their second growth phase is the most effective. When your souls burn out in the Soul Gems and turn into Grief Seeds, they emit immense amounts of energy. It is our, the Incubators' job, to collect that energy. >>

Somewhere along the way, Madoka has curled up again, her arms around her knees, fragile. She looks tiny and miserable, but she isn't alone, not with Mai's hand and Chibi-Usa's curling and Setsuna's flanking and Usagi's hugging and a Kasagami-Setsuna sandwich.

She lifts her head a little. The anger is fully smothered now by simple, raw distress.

"So we're just... expendables?" she whimpers. "Are you saying we should, just, die for you?"

<< Do you know how many cultures exist in this universe, consuming energy every moment? Sometime in the future you humans will leave this planet and join us, too. It wouldn't be nice if the universe was dying by that time, would it? If you think about it, it's not such a bad trade-off! >>

"Don't say that!" Madoka shrieks. "Because of your stupid reason, Mami and Eri and Kyouko died, and Sayaka ended up like that..." She's sobbing, again. No, not again. Her tears before now have not been this unleashed, unselfconscious outpouring. Maybe this is the real thing. The breakthrough her friends came here to achieve. ...Hooray?

"It's... it's too cruel!"

She weeps openly, shudders wracking her little body spasmodically. The Incubator was right: when energy is transferred, normally some of it is lost. Everyone touching her is able to feel those involuntary motions, in miniature, transferred through the skin.

And the kinetic, yes, is lesser for it.

But the emotional is the same, or more...

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

There's nothing, in this instant, more important than staying with Madoka--than being her support, then being at her side. Maybe it's Setsuna's nature, in a way, her training all her life, to work for someone, to help someone. ...Or maybe it's because she's chosen someone, here, and now.

The others speak, too; Setsuna hears them, as she stares. The ones who were Shepherds are not her enemy, here. The Chevaliers are not her only comrades. ...No--

But she doesn't speak up at first. She listens; it is important to listen, to understand, this is something she's learned over painstaking experience. ...But, a part of her wishes--

A part of her wishes that she did not understand, because some of the obvious rage in her eyes bleeds out, bleeds out as surely as the color drains from her face as she does comprehend. Setsuna Higashi, once Executive of Labyrinth, understands entropy all too well.

...She understands energy, not bound by thermodynamics. She does not need the basic explanation; she does not, entirely... need the last. Because--


Setsuna doesn't move. Chill, rational, correct; no emotion, no nothing. This is not strange to Setsuna, but that does not mean it is comfortable. It is like home, after all, hearing this rational, calm explanation. It is so, so very much like home.

Setsuna finally moves, but only enough to curl hands on Madoka's shoulder... and swallow, shifting to stand. Chibi-Usa doesn't; she remains, staring in absolute horror.

"...Yes," Citizen #ES-4039781 of Labyrinth answers," looking down at Kyubey with a similar form of calm. "...I'm well aware," she says, "Of the great energy that humans hold. My world knows it, too, though it wasn't our primary goal, here on Earth."

Her jaw sets. She remembers, what it was, to feel these things--she remembers the anger... and she remembers the ache, all too well. The awful things that she's done flood through her mind, and how can she help it? They link. Using these people, these precious lives, for the benefit of...

"Labyrinth is also an advanced culture, requiring a great deal of energy to sustain itself. This may be part of why Moebius-sama seeks to extend his dominion over more parallel worlds."

"...And just like you," she continues, "We decided that the suffering of individual humans was not a significant cost, in the name of efficiency, and progress."

Her fingers curl at her sides.

"What gives you the right!?" Setsuna shouts, suddenly, all the passion in her voice present that was utterly gone moments ago. "You come here, you pretend to be their friend--"

Her eyes sting, and blur, because she knows she's accusing Kyubey of the same thing that she did, and she falters, saying it, stopping as if struck, unable to continue for a moment.

"It's--It's not... It's not right," Setsuna cries, and stumbles back, tears quickly blinding her as she finds she just sinks back into a seat on the bed. "It's--It's not--"

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Despite being such a small creature, Kyubey remains against those who would most likely want to harm it somehow, Steven included. A horrible thing to cross his mind for certain, but it deserves some kind of punishment! It is practically a badguy!

Or so he thought in a way. A deeply furrowed brow is all that greets Kyubey should they glance his direction.

And they begin to spin a tale of sorts. Steven remains quiet until they are finished. "You can't sit there and tell me that your best answer to whatever entropy is, is 'let's use young ladies as some kind of emotional energy charger'? Are you for real?"

The boy throws his hands up. "What even causes entropy anyway?! Is it just a thing that happens, or...?" THe boy seems rather frustrated, even moreso seeing Madoka even more foregone in her sadness. "There has to be some other way out there! Like, I am pretty sure we have dealt with all sorts of major things that reality altering items and spells and junk, go find one of those and use it instead of putting kind girls on a death... spiral.. thing!"

THis this lovely chair was actually his he might nad thrown it across the room in a fit of frustration. But it is a very nice chair and not his. Instead he will bite his lip rather hard and wonder how these beings could be so callous-- the lack of emotion can help attribute that, he figures, but isn't a good enough excuse...!

"I mean, we don't need this kind of thing causing us problems! We got badguys coming at us from every direction, like those freaky gray blob things that possess people, that Westar guy, and now Gems from Homeworld came back to look at Earth! We don't need more problems like allies dying, and fighting Witches n stuff!"

Steven huffs and folds his arms, leaning back into his chair angrily. "If this keeps up you won't have people get get energy from."

Another huff. Seems like he has said his fill for the moment.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Nori Ankou puts her plate aside on the windowsill. She is going to drop it, she knows, and the anxiety, the tension of that, is something that she can put aside. She does not know if she will have appetite for the carefully crafted flan before it spoils. Or for anything again. In this moment, the horror is unveiled.

The horror and the mystery, perhaps they are the same thing.

Nori looks towards Madoka. There are others with her, she thinks, even as she hears Kyubey's voice within her mind, even as the creature explains itself. Her teeth set at the tone of imperious, stuffy awe, the self-satisfied glorification in it, as if it were detailing the achievements of a drainage network throughout Sapporo's northern wards!!

The anger rises, surges, and flows downstream again. Nori breathes out for long enough that she does not think it can end. Perhaps her soul will leave her body and become a ghost. Join --

No, she thinks. She thinks obscurely of a lighthouse shining out on a dark sea. She can smell that sea, right now. For the tears are coming from Madoka, and they are something holy. Something sacred. Her body tightens for a moment, and then relaxes, and she turns her chair to face Kyubey as she lets it cradle her.

Maybe I just broke, Nori thinks; perhaps the bottom is out of the barrel and everything is coming out of me and I'm just not all the way drained yet. She looks over - and she sees her brooch, wrapped in lace.

Nori takes it off the shawl, undoes the little lace wrap she had done - so as not, perhaps, to provoke Kasagami or any other who might have come. (Such as Eri, she thinks, with a little quaver in the belly.) After it is unwrapped, she places the little brooch, with its little cartoon knight, at her collar, and looks back to Kyubey.

"No," she says. The tears come back to her eyes but her voice doesn't quaver too much. "No, you're - you're still wrong."

The tears run down her cheeks again. Damn it, she thinks, even as she keeps speaking. "I... I think there is a word, for... for what you say... I can't remember it... but it seems familiar. Something from school... but it is still wrong. It isn't right!"

"Sayaka... Sayaka had a dream... to protect others. Her dream fell from her, when Mami died... but Mami died, from the attack of Eri... and the battles between us... came about, because they sought to... to cultivate your Witches. Even now... you're putting a bright face on this. Telling us that we're suffering for the benefit of far-off people... I wonder if my soi-great uncles speak thus, when they stalk those they mark as their prey."

"If the choice," Nori says, "is to throw the dreams of girls into a great machine... to turn hopes into curses... or to let the universe perish in, in entropy..." Her left hand tightens into a sudden fist, and she raises her eyes, shoulders straightening as she finds herself, in fact, lifting out of that chair as if electrified: "Then I would rather perish!!"

"Their dreams," Nori pants, "are not COAL FOR YOUR FURNACE. Their souls are not your fuel!" she says, her hands coming up to tighten in the air as she leans forwards, eyes wide and cheeks wet. Her eyes flick for a moment to Setsuna.

I have to keep going, Nori thinks, straightening up even further.

I feel ridiculous, she thinks: Is this why Kyubey chose this form...?

Steven speaks as Nori struggles for words. And then she freezes. 'Bad guys coming at us from every direction' is not how she would have put it, but the concept is clear. Her eyes turn back to Kyubey, and she says with slow-dawning horror that eclipses that dudgeon, "And if they should come... then there would be girls who... would desire the power to save those they love... wouldn't there...? DECEIVER!!" Nori suddenly shrieks. "DEVIL! Be gone from this realm! I abjure you!"

The words hold no power, and Nori knows it perfectly well. After the abjuration, she hyperventilates, a little, the tears temporarily dried.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Entropy is a concept which Fuu knows a little about; she could probably have missed the capsule lecture, but she absorbs it anyway - even unwillingly - rather than tuning out the white creature's mental voice. She doesn't quite have the focus or attention to block it, either; getting back to her feet is an effort, and at this moment, it's no trifling effort, either.

And then the Incubator as much as admits that it is, in fact, responsible for the deaths of five girls - five Puella Magi, or so Fuu presumes about those names she didn't really know. In Fuu's interpretation, the creature even seems to take pride in it - a great discovery, a discovery that could save the universe.

All it costs is the lives, if not the very souls, of those who become Puella Magi.

Setsuna Higashi - the girl once known to them as Eas - lapses into her old role and confirms the Incubators' practical analysis ... but then it's Setsuna again, the traitor to Labyrinth and a Pretty Cure herself, who is first to call out the Incubator.

"Magical girls ..." Fuu's first words are barely a whisper, but she takes a deeper breath and speaks more forcefully, her fists clenched. She is *not* smiling.

"Our role as magical girls is to protect, or so I've always believed. To protect innocents around us. To protect those we've never met. Sometimes we fight for the sake of the whole world. Sometimes we fight for even more than that - sometimes it's a battle for many worlds, perhaps even the universe itself. And sometimes ... sometimes, rarely, there are battles from which some of us don't return." She pauses, swallowing ... and then gives Kyubey a LOOK which would, if made manifest, impale the creature against the wall behind it.

"But to recruit girls as Puella Magi, to deceive them into the course their powers will take, to sacrifice them without their knowledge ... worse, to catalyze their transformation into the very monsters they were called to fight ... Even for the sake of all creation, how *DARE* you?!"

Fuu sucks in another breath, clamping her mouth shut; she didn't mean to shriek at the very end, but she couldn't rein her heart in quickly enough. Her hands aren't simply clenched at her sides, now, but flexing, opening, clenching again. One more breath, slow and deep and controlled, and then she steps forward, joining the cluster around Madoka. And if she can reach the pink-haired girl - a shoulder or an arm - she takes hold. Gently. Deliberately. Carefully.

It's not Madoka she's angry at. Never Madoka. But they - all of them, now - need that tangible reminder of not being alone.

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Vita's bracing herself now. It knew. It did this on purpose. She remembers what feels like a million masters, though it was probably not even a hundred. So many of them with those cutting, judging eyes. One or two with a kindly smile. So many of them, so assured, and so many of them with that thought on their lips. It's okay if a few people die. It's alright.

Vita finds herself on a battlefield a thousand light years away, staring down at a man she has personally drained until his skin turned blue. The master is saying something about the importance of the work, but it is Kyubey's lecture she hears. She doesn't understand this science, precisely. She's broadly familiar with the concepts the Incubator outlines. They'd discussed it - just once, she recalls. She thinks of a different time. A day they'd been allowed tables and chairs. A time the Master Program that would become Reinforce had awakened but the Security Program did not immediately follow. An idle conversation, as they had sometimes in those days, but one of the strange import immortals sometimes wound their way around to; after all, the faults in eternity were a potential cause for concern for them.

And then the Incubator says the magic words. 'If you think about it, it's not such a bad trade-off!'

Vita's plush hits the floor and the fire ignites in her eyes, her hands losing their gripping strength as they fall to her sides. "I have been fed that line more times than I'll ever be able to count," she croaks. Then she's shouting. "It's fine if they hurt. It's fine if they cry. It's fine, it's fine, it's fine, as long as the master gets whatever crazy thing they've decided is important this month! I've been the hand of people like you more times than I can count. You're not half as special, not half the visionary you think! All you've found is a novel way to be horrible!"

She'd held it in this long, but her eyes stream with tears now, remembering agonies recent and very, very old. "I finally get to make my own choices," she says, small arms trembling. "And I finally get to decide I won't allow it anymore!"

Graf Eisen releases another BONG, no longer like distant bells and more like striking a rough bowl you happen to be inside of, and the pendant begins to glow on Vita's chest in preparation for something potentially imminent.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Zafira takes roost on the other side of the roof.

Stiffly, quietly, Mikoto says: "I'm not here to fight." And she proves a poor conversationalist, though those too-bright eyes lock onto him. Her ears are focused elsewhere. Zafira might notice, the way they stare each other down - how she doesn't seem surprised to hear Madoka say they're dead.

She doesn't have to be surprised to be sad, because she hears what Madoka is saying.


'...No. No, no they wouldn't. Kyou-chan, Eri-chan...You're wrong. Wrong. That's impossible. They wouldn't!'


As they express grief down below she claps her hands over those ears which listen so close, hands tightening around her braids; he has won the staring contest, because hers are closed, now. She makes a tiny, strangled little noise, and her eyes when they open are bright with tears, too.

She realises her vulnerability, and those eyes glare Zafira down preemptively, slit-eyed like a cat. For a moment her lips curl over her teeth in a signal which should be clear to any wolf. She does not want help.

Sadness floods over her again, softening her gaze as she looks down towards the edge of the roof, the darkened window.

It's always been true, after all - when her friends are sad, Mikoto is sad, too.

Even though...

She reaches for her ear again all a sudden, rubbing at it as she frowns deeply. She does not like voices which speak this closely; it feels too intimate, too intrusive on the balance in her mind. And she does not like the things it says.

Madoka is angry, and it would not be wrong to describe Mikoto as angry, pinprick eyes and an ugly snarl over shallowed breath. It would not be wrong - and like her message, it would be incomplete.

Nori cannot believe it, she hears. Mai is angry; Steven, too. Kasagami - has lost so many people she thinks of as family. The responses blur into a miasma of rage and despair. The Incubator clearly explains.

She knows a thing or two about voices which are easy to listen to. But it's wrong. It's wrong, and she shakes her head in silent denial.

(Not the things it says. Mikoto does not know enough about science to say those are wrong. Besides...)

Eri planted her Familiars, and the Familiars made people kill themselves, and they ate their misery and became Witches, and then Eri and Mikoto killed the Witches, and the Witches dropped Grief Seeds, and Eri ate the Grief Seeds. Gardening.

The Incubator makes girls into Puella Magi, and Puella Magi get sadder and sadder, and eventually it's too much and Puella Magi become Witches, and the Incubator takes that energy and uses it to power its world. Gardening.

At some point her hand has moved from her ear to clasp over her mouth, stifling a cry. Horror paints her face a pale shade.

It's the same.

She hates the way it is spelled out. She can't look away from something explained so simply.

She can't look away from something abjured so harshly.

Perhaps the Incubator is a better instructor than it knows.